People who experience a concussion are advised to halt or limit certain physical activities until they are recovered. A less known treatment recommendation is to limit cognitive (mental) activity.

Evidence shows that cognitive rest, or brain rest, facilitates the concussion recovery process.1 While almost all physicians will prescribe brain rest to concussion patients, research in this area is ongoing and exact recommendations may vary among physicians.

This article reviews tips for adults who need adequate brain rest after experiencing a concussion.

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Defining Brain Rest

Concussion experts define brain rest as limiting any cognitive activities that aggravate concussion symptoms or are metabolically demanding.

The brain needs energy for normal cognitive and physical activity. These energy demands increase after a concussive event because:

  • An injured brain needs additional energy to heal itself.
  • A concussive event can decrease cerebral blood flow,2,3 which restricts the brain’s ability to access and use energy.4

A concussion patient who exerts unnecessary mental effort can diminish the brain’s ability to heal in a timely manner. Patients are advised to limit cognitive as well as physical activities so the brain is protected, has the energy to heal, and symptoms are not prolonged or worsened.5

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Brain Rest for Concussion Recovery

Deciding how much cognitive rest is appropriate can be difficult. Some research suggests1 cognitive rest can allow patients to recover more quickly, and that a lack of brain rest during early recovery can:

  • Lead to prolonged or worsened post-concussion symptoms
  • Make the brain more susceptible to repeat injury

While getting brain rest should be part of the immediate, post-injury recovery process, the exact amount of cognitive rest required during recovery varies from person to person, and the plan for mental rest should be individualized.

References:

  1. Brown NJ, Mannix RC, O'Brien MJ, Gostine D, Collins MW, Meehan WP 3rd. Effect of cognitive activity level on duration of post-concussion symptoms. Pediatrics. 2014 Jan 6.
  2. Maugans TA, Farley C, Altaye M, Leach J, Cecil KM. Pediatric sports-related concussion produces cerebral blood flow alterations. Pediatrics. 2012;129(1):28-37.
  3. Toledo E, Lebel A, Becerra L, et al. The young brain and concussion: imaging as a biomarker for diagnosis and prognosis. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012;36(6):1510-31.

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